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Vipassana: Noting/Mahasi Style

Buddha Pong: Report from the field

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Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
9/13/14 6:09 PM
Short version: come beta test this super cool app for social noting and help us build community around it. (Sorry, Android users, it's only iOS for now.)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id897707690?mt=8

Instructions: download the free app from the link above or search for Buddha Pong in the app store. Buddha Pong works on iPhone or iPad, but for the App Store search, be sure to search for "iPhone apps only." This happens by default on your iPhone, but your iPad will search for iPad apps and give you a blank search result until you change it to "search for iPhone apps" in the upper left of your screen.

Once you have it up and running and have signed in with Facebook, hit the "Connect" button on the Connect tab. This will send a push notification to anyone who has enabled "I'm available" on their Me tab.

When someone else shows up, you'll hear a chime. Begin noting immediately. No chit-chat or nervous giggling necessary. Most people who are using the app at this stage already know the ping pong noting technique. If you don't know how to do it, tap the word "LEARN" in the middle of the connect screen.

Have fun!

Post your questions and suggestions on this thread. Very excited to hear from you. For a more detailed understanding of the evolution of the technique and the Buddha Pong app, please read on...

The setup: what is ping pong noting and why is it important?

A few years ago while teaching Mahasi-style mental noting vipassana during a Skype session, I had an epiphany. For some years, I had been in the habit of asking a student to note aloud for a few minutes during a coaching session so I could hear exactly what they were noting and offer suggestions in real time. I would also demonstrate the technique for students by noting aloud in a continuous, real time stream of my own experience, noting once every couple of seconds. On this particular day in '07 or '08, it occured to me that we could this one step further; I suggested to the student, "You do one, I'll do one. Ping pong style."

So we did. It was easy. I monitored my experience in real time, and reported with a one-word label. "Itching," I said.

"Hearing," said the student.

"Interest," I said.

"Curiosity," she replied. We bounced this back and forth, about one note every two or three seconds.

Ping pong noting was a hit. I started teaching it to all my students. They loved it and so did I. To get a real time window into the experience of another human is a precious gift because

1) It normalizes human behavior. (To hear someone else report fear, shame, self-loathing, envy, guilt, or anxiety, is such a relief. "Oh, you mean I'm not the only one? Phew!")

2) It gives the noter an outlet for feelings that might otherwise go unexpressed forever, all in real time.

3) It's the most powerful tool I've ever encountered for teaching the Mahasi noting technique of vipassana meditation, as it allows the teacher to hear the student's technique as it's happening and offer immediate feedback on how to improve the technique. Compare this to the less efficient but more commonly used method of asking a student to report what happened during his or her last meditation session and asking whether he or she remembered to note it.

4) The feedback loop is very tight. Both meditators stay on task because the act of verbalizing what you are noticing as you are noticing it proves that you are doing it. The ping pong-style interaction makes it impossible to drift very far or for very long; you are accountable to the other person to say something within two or three seconds in order to pass the baton back to them. Compare this to silent noting, where it's easy to forget to note for long periods of time, often resulting in daydreaming or the dreaded "pleasant hypnogogic state" (aka dull, drifty dozing) that my teacher used to warn about.

5) It builds community. It's really sweet to hear the voices of your friends, loved ones, and community members. Humans are said to be the most social of animals on Earth (other than insects); we need to be with each other and we get emotionally and physically sick without lots of human interaction. Solo mediation, while well known to be valuable in so many ways, can be socially isolating. I know this first hand, having spent many years in self-imposed exile while meditating. Social meditation is a natural antidote to meditation-induced loneliness.

6) It's a way to be safe and intimate at the same time. You share your most intimate experience, one word at at time, but you don't have to share anything you don't want to share.

7) Ping pong noting provides a container that allows you to stay in touch with people you care about but wouldn't otherwise talk to regularly because of time constraints. I have a dear friend in L.A. who I've been meaning to catch up with. But I know catching up will take a couple of hours. I never seem to have so much time in a chunk. So I postpone the call. For years. The more I kick the can down the road, the less likely I am to call, because the volume of stuff we have to catch up on keeps growing. Sad, but true. But if we agree in advance on a ten-minute social noting session on a countdown timer, I can hear her voice, connect with her emotionally, and not feel any obligation to go beyond ten minutes. I don't get to hear the content of her thoughts, but sometimes that's OK, and it's more about the sharing and intimate connection without all the content. Super cool!

8) Last on this list, but most important of all from a Buddhist perspective, is that social noting is an extremely efficient way to practice Mahasi noting. Solo Mahasi noting, as originally taught in Burma beginning in the 1950s and now all over the world, is a powerful way to objectify experience. (To objectify something is to take it as the object of attention.) Anything taken as object is intuitively understood to be "not me" or "not I." This seems to be an observable law of human experience; I can never be what I am looking at, because if there is an "I", it must always the be one who is looking. And since everything in experience can be objectified, it turns out that this "I" can never be found. Seeing this again and again and letting the implications of this unfindable "I" sink in over a lifetime, are the very essence of the understandings targeted by Buddism. Objectification of experience leads to Buddhist awakening and Mahasi noting is a great leap forward in the technology of objectification compared to silent meditation without noting, which does not come with a built-in feedback loop.

In my observation, social noting is Mahasi noting turbo-charged. Speaking the note aloud ensures that you are objectifying your experience one phenomenon at a time, and being accountable to another human being keeps you on task throughout the entire session. Ten minutes of ping pong noting is ten minutes of nearly 100% efficient noting. Compare this to silent noting, where it is not unusual for an hourlong session to have so many periods of drifting and wool-gathering that you might be lucky to get five or ten minutes of clear noting during the entire hour.

Buddha Pong, the app

So, social noting is da bomb, but there haven't been many opportunities to do it. No way to find other people who want to do it, and no structured way to make the connection. Until now! I've spent about three years working with some really smart and creative folks to research, design, and build a mobile app that finds someone around the world who wants to note with you. Then it facilitates the audio connection and gives you a container for the session, automatically starting a ten-minute countdown timer. When the timer hits zero, it automatically ends the connection. You can do as many for as few ten minute sessions as you want to, but there is no expectation to do more than one, and no way to do a session longer than ten minutes.

Scroll back up to the top of this page for the link to the mobile app (sorry, iOS only), and brief instructions.

Can't wait to note with you on Buddha Pong! We (the team of developers, designers, advisors, and funders who all worked very hard together to build the Buddha Pong app) are committed to improving the experience and building a community of people who want to note together, so please post your questions, comments, testimonials, and suggestions on this thread.

On a personal note, I love this app. I use it almost every day, often multiple times a day. I would use it even more often if I could. This post is one of the first public announcements of the launch. So far there aren't enough people using Buddha Pong for me to find a partner every time I open it. I'm hoping to eventually have enough users for critical mass, so there will be someone on the other end for everyone to note with a partner any time of the day or night, covering all the time zones. Super excited about that. We already have regular users in Australia, Italy, Canada, England, and the US, and occasional users from many other countries around the world. More coming every day.

Buddha Pong is still in beta testing mode, so please forgive us as we work out the bugs. It works pretty well, but there are still crashes and glitches from time to time, and it will take us some time to track them all down and fix them.

Tips and Tricks:

Be bold. Tap the Connect button to invite others to note with you. This will send out a push notification to a bunch of people. Don't just lurk and hope something will happen; no one will know you are there unless you tap the Connect button. It's especially important in these early stages that you take the initiative to hook up with people rather than just lurking. Once you have a couple of sessions under your belt, you'll see how easy and non-threatening it is and your confidence will grow.

Be patient once you tap the Connect button. It takes a half-minute or so to hook people up, so don't back out too soon thinking the connection has failed. If you do, you and your potential partner will just end up chasing each other around the app without every hooking up.

Be available. Go to your Me tab and make sure your "Available" button is toggled on. Otherwise, you won't get the push notifications when other people want to note, and you won't hook up with anyone. Later, when we have critical mass, this won't matter so much because there will always be someone somewhere in the world who wants to note. For now, we keep the network alive with push notifications.

Ask for help. If you hook up with me, Scott, Abre, or Vincent, you can ask for help at the beginning of the session. Just say "I'm new, can you please teach me the technique?" We'll be happy to get you up to speed. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to learn and how powerful it is for both beginners and advanced meditators.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
9/13/14 9:00 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Just as a personal testimony. I have used this app to connect with a few people including Kenneth. It's great. I was nervous at first, noting with people I don't know, but that was quickly dispelled because I just noted "nervous" and it was fine. Strangely enough, despite (and because) of its social constraints (no chit chat, 10 minute limit) I find it very intimate - sharing moment to moment experience with somebody I probably don't know - much more so than most social interactions that I have on a daily basis. I often end the sessions feeling exhilerated. Highly recommended!

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
9/13/14 9:30 PM as a reply to Jason Snyder.
Jason Snyder:
Just as a personal testimony. I have used this app to connect with a few people including Kenneth. It's great. I was nervous at first, noting with people I don't know, but that was quickly dispelled because I just noted "nervous" and it was fine. Strangely enough, despite (and because) of its social constraints (no chit chat, 10 minute limit) I find it very intimate - sharing moment to moment experience with somebody I probably don't know - much more so than most social interactions that I have on a daily basis. I often end the sessions feeling exhilerated. Highly recommended!

Thanks so much for saying so, Jason! I see on the Buddha Pong news feed that you and Aniseh noted together for ten minutes about a half hour ago. So happy to see it. Are you still available? I'll meet you there now if you want to go another round...

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
9/14/14 12:14 AM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Kenneth Folk:
Jason Snyder:
Just as a personal testimony. I have used this app to connect with a few people including Kenneth. It's great. I was nervous at first, noting with people I don't know, but that was quickly dispelled because I just noted "nervous" and it was fine. Strangely enough, despite (and because) of its social constraints (no chit chat, 10 minute limit) I find it very intimate - sharing moment to moment experience with somebody I probably don't know - much more so than most social interactions that I have on a daily basis. I often end the sessions feeling exhilerated. Highly recommended!

Thanks so much for saying so, Jason! I see on the Buddha Pong news feed that you and Aniseh noted together for ten minutes about a half hour ago. So happy to see it. Are you still available? I'll meet you there now if you want to go another round...
I'm glad we were able to catch each other, that was great!

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
9/14/14 1:36 AM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
I downloaded the app. Would use it if there wasn't a facebook sing in.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
9/14/14 12:54 PM as a reply to ftw.
ftw:
I downloaded the app. Would use it if there wasn't a facebook sing in.


Right! So glad you mentioned it. We went with Facebook login because we want people to use their real names. We are creating a culture of accountability, which we hope will keep people from spamming, sexting, pranking, etc., so that serious practitioners can feel safe and focus on practice. But some people don't want to log in with Facebook, for some very good reasons. So...

There is a secret backdoor!

Email me at kennethfolkdharma at gmail dot com and I will send you the instructions for email login. Also more than happy to personally walk new users through the signup process and/or first noting session, so don't hestitate to reach out to me. Looking forward to it...

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
9/14/14 5:43 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Buddha pong sounds like an awesome idea. Meditation can be so subtle and complex, and communication skills vary, so I can only imagine what a pain in the ass it is for teachers to sort out what their students are telling them. In the Visudimaggha, the author recommends that teachers develop the ability to read minds... which is kind of creepy but makes sense.

I have an Android tablet around here somewhere, I'd love to hear when the app is out of Android.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
9/14/14 7:58 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Eric M W:

I have an Android tablet around here somewhere, I'd love to hear when the app is out of Android.

Just talked to friend and collaborator Greg Little, a man with mad coding skills. He mentioned that porting Buddha Pong for Android might be a fun project.

!!!

Stay tuned... emoticon

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/3/14 8:25 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Try it for the first time yesterday and found it effective. There is not enough user right now so it would be nice to get more visibility for this app. If I leave the toggle "Available", does it mean I get a notification if someone try to connect even if my phone screen is off?

I suggest another feature: planned sessions. It might take a while before we reach a critical mass that make is so that there is always someone available. A planned session would be nothing else than an alarm. Let's say I set the alarm at 9pm. In tab, we can see a list of everyone alarms. The person can reserve a session. Then, at the planned time both users will receive an alarm and be connected. 

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/5/14 6:29 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Simon T.:
If I leave the toggle "Available", does it mean I get a notification if someone try to connect even if my phone screen is off?

I suggest another feature: planned sessions. It might take a while before we reach a critical mass that make is so that there is always someone available. A planned session would be nothing else than an alarm. Let's say I set the alarm at 9pm. In tab, we can see a list of everyone alarms. The person can reserve a session. Then, at the planned time both users will receive an alarm and be connected. 

Thanks for the feedback, Simon! Yes, the "available" toggle means you get push notifications when the phone is in lock mode.

I love the planned sessions idea and also the way you've fleshed it out. Lemme ponder that for a minute, talk it over with David and see what we can do...

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/5/14 7:53 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Kenneth Folk:
Simon T.:
If I leave the toggle "Available", does it mean I get a notification if someone try to connect even if my phone screen is off?

I suggest another feature: planned sessions. It might take a while before we reach a critical mass that make is so that there is always someone available. A planned session would be nothing else than an alarm. Let's say I set the alarm at 9pm. In tab, we can see a list of everyone alarms. The person can reserve a session. Then, at the planned time both users will receive an alarm and be connected. 

Thanks for the feedback, Simon! Yes, the "available" toggle means you get push notifications when the phone is in lock mode.

I love the planned sessions idea and also the way you've fleshed it out. Lemme ponder that for a minute, talk it over with David and see what we can do...

Does the push notification make a sound? I always leave my phone on vibration so it would be nice to get a vibration when we are being notified. I came back to the app more than once to see that I had received a notification but didn't hear anything nor had any vibration.

On the other hand, if there is a sound or vibration when we get a notification, people might get annoyed eventually and put themselves unavailable. A nice feature then would be to be able to set an expiration time for our available status. 

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/6/14 9:55 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Hi Simon,

Yes, there is a sound along with the push notification, and when the phone is on silent it vibrates if you have it configured that way in Settings.

Yes, a timeout on the available toggle could be a cool feature. Thanks!

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/7/14 11:44 AM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Kenneth Folk:
Hi Simon,

Yes, there is a sound along with the push notification, and when the phone is on silent it vibrates if you have it configured that way in Settings.

Yes, a timeout on the available toggle could be a cool feature. Thanks!

Is there supposed to be a Settings section for Buddha Pong in the iPhone Settings app? I don't have one. I run IOS 7.1 on an iPhone. I read that you are supposed to have at least 1 setting when running IOS 8 (for the mic/camera issue), but I don't have anything at all. I removed and installed it again and still no settings.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/7/14 8:15 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Simon T.:
Kenneth Folk:
Hi Simon,

Yes, there is a sound along with the push notification, and when the phone is on silent it vibrates if you have it configured that way in Settings.

Yes, a timeout on the available toggle could be a cool feature. Thanks!

Is there supposed to be a Settings section for Buddha Pong in the iPhone Settings app? I don't have one. I run IOS 7.1 on an iPhone. I read that you are supposed to have at least 1 setting when running IOS 8 (for the mic/camera issue), but I don't have anything at all. I removed and installed it again and still no settings.
In iOS 7 the only settings for Buddha Pong are on the Profile (Me) page in the app itself. Otherwise, just use the generic settings in your Settings app to configure your phone to vibrate when silent, etc. You've probably already done this.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/9/14 8:24 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
Update: Someone posted about Buddha Pong on Reddit a few days ago and we got a nice influx of new users.

http://www.reddit.com/r/Meditation/comments/2i8let/buddha_pong_an_iphone_app_to_connect_with_people/

Still haven't worked a lot of the bugs out, and even so, people are using the app, so I'm very encouraged. User base is growing steadily, and our Daily Average User/Monthly Average User ratio is steadily averaging between 30% and 35% for months now. Anything over 20% is considered healthy for a social app, so we're in good shape for user engagement. Most of all, I keep seeing how much people are benefitting from the experience of noting with others around the world. This is one of the most fulfilling projects I've ever worked on. And I personally use it many times a day, especially looking out for new users I can connect with and give a quick orientation if they need it.

If you haven't tried it yet, please download Buddha Pong and give it a go. Then tell me what you think so we can continue to make it better.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/11/14 3:07 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
I am quite new to iPad. Am I supposed to hear a sound when someone wants to connect with me? Also, what does the red circle with a "1" in it mean, and what do I do about it?


RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/12/14 7:34 AM as a reply to Derek.
Hi Derek,

When "available" is toggled to the on position on your profile page (recommended), you'll get a push notification anytime someone taps the "Connect" button on the home screen. It will say the name of the person who wants to connect. For example, if I tap the connect button, everyone who is available will see "Kenneth wants to meditate with you." I almost always have my phone on silent, so my phone vibrates whenever a push notification shows up. I think there is a tone if your phone is not on silent, but it vibrates either way, so you know when someone sends out the broadcast invitation.

The little red badge with a number is telling you that someone is currently in the Buddha Pong app on their iPhone or iPad. If the number is one, there is one person there, if it is two, there are two people with the app open at this very moment, etc. This is a realtime notification; as soon as they leave the app, the number will disappear.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/12/14 1:28 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
As we discussed before, there is definitely an issue with alerts as I never get a vibration or hear a sound. A few other bugs I noted:
-Sometimes, to number of people available go into negative. I think it's happen when we try to connect and there is no one online, but someone is disconnecting from the app while we are waiting (or something similar).
-Once, the app tried to connect with myself. 
-Maybe not a bug but a delibarate choice of implementation, but there was an instance when I attempting a connection and someone else was doing the same (we would both be shown as "waiting to meditate" in the lobby) but the app insisted that there was nobody online instead of connecting us to each other.

Beside that, it works great. Some other suggestions:

-The possibility of putting comments on our profile or contact infos.
-The possibility of extending the 10 minutes if both users agree to do so. But that might goes against the spirit so I'm not sure it's a good idea. The forced 10 minutes as the advantage of making the interaction more impersonal, and having people hook randomly with others, eliminating some social awkwardness.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/13/14 1:56 PM as a reply to Kenneth Folk.
It's fun, and it helps build a sense of a real community.

It must have been a lot of work for your developer. Are you still taking feature requests? It would be nice if it displayed sideways on an iPad. Also, I have my iPad connected to speakers that go to sleep and take five seconds to wake up after first hearing a sound. Not sure what/if anyone can do anything about that LOL.

Let's see if I've got this right:

BUDDHA PONG CHEAT SHEET




To set up your community photo


Go to the ME tab and tap the default photo. Buddha Pong will take a new photo for you.

To get noting instructions

Go to the CONNECT tab and tap HOW? Tap Back when you're done reading.

To initiate a connection

Go to the CONNECT tab and tap CONNECT. This will send a notification to everyone who is Available. The solid CONNECT button turns into a spinning circle. Wait a few minutes until someone answers your request (or press Cancel if you don't want to wait). When someone answers, you will hear their voice.

To make yourself available for others to connect to


Go to the ME tab and toggle Available to ON. You will now get a notification whenever anyone is looking for a connection.

To respond to incoming connection requests


Go to the CONNECT tab and press CONNECT.

To see who is available

Go to the LOBBY tab to see who has marked themselves as Available.

To see recent community activity

The NEWS tab builds a sense of support and community by showing you how active other people have been recently.

To see how many people are in Buddha Pong right now


Before you open the app, the number in the red circle shows you how many people have the app open right at this moment. In my screenshot, that number is 1. It is not be necessary for anyone else to have the app open for you to initiate a connection. All available people will be alerted when you tap CONNECT.



If you get a crash in iOS 8

The message at the top of the CONNECT tab concerns crashes in iOS 8. Tapping it takes you to a help text on how to adjust your Settings for Buddha Pong. Tap the Back link to return to the CONNECT tab.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/14/14 6:20 PM as a reply to Simon T..
Thanks for bug report and suggestions, Simon. And thanks for noting with me on the app! I've enjoyed our sessions.

RE: Buddha Pong: Report from the field
Answer
10/14/14 6:21 PM as a reply to Derek.
This is excellent, Derek. Feeling grateful for the effort you put into this. It will really help new users get up to speed.